By Liz, happy to welcome Hannah Dennison to the blog today! I met Hannah at a recent virtual Cozy Con and she was so much fun I had to invite her here to chat with all of you. Welcome, Hannah!
I’m thrilled to be a guest on Wicked Authors today. I suspect this would never have happened had it not been for meeting Liz in cyberspace at Cozy Con at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. Thank you, Liz!
One of the plus sides of the pandemic (and somehow, we must find them,) is the “new-normal” of virtual author events. After twenty-five years living in California and Oregon, I moved back home to the UK and was concerned that I would vanish into the ether. Au contraire! Now I can stay active in the mystery community from the comfort of my own armchair and, of course, because English time is always hours ahead of the USA, usually with a glass of wine!
Speaking of being an armchair traveler, my initial research for my new series—the Island Sisters Mysteries that are set in the Isles of Scilly—was done just like that. The Isles of Scilly—the locals call themselves “Scillonians” and the islands, “Scilly” but never the Scilly Isles (semantics, I know, oh and it’s pronounced silly), are an archipelago just twenty-eight miles off the Cornish coast of England—Poldark country for Aidan Turner fans.
I had never been to Scilly, nor had I ever planned to visit until my sister introduced me to her friend Gill Knight who had worked as the HR director on Tresco, a luxury resort on one of the five inhabited islands. Gill told me that Tresco—an island that measures a mere two miles long by one mile wide—has no streetlights, no cars, no police presence and that the nearest hospital was a twenty-minute boat ride to the main island of St. Mary’s. As an aside, when Gill went into labor with her first child, she was whisked to the hospital by the coastguard. Gill added that many of the seasonal workers who came to work on the islands were either hiding from something or running away from someone. I couldn’t think of a better setting for a mystery series and naturally, I had to include my sister.
I wrote a few drafts relying heavily on Google Earth, YouTube and a gazillion documentaries. I was happy with my fictional island that I christened Tregarrick Rock and pleased (always a bad sign) with all the cultural and historical nuances, that is, until I got an invitation to go to Scilly.
It’s a bit of a trek that entails either a five-hour train ride from London to Penzance, followed by a two-and-three-quarter hour ferry crossing (the ferry is nicknamed the Great White Stomach Pump for obvious reasons) and then a water taxi from the main island. There are options to fly by plane or helicopter, but the weather can be unpredictable especially off-season when there is a lot of fog. It was only when my feet touched the ground on Tresco that I realized just how much I hadn’t captured from my armchair research.
I had described everything as I had imagined it to be but when I got there, the visceral experience of breathing the fresh air, walking the wild northern part of the island (which is like the Scottish Highlands) or sitting in the Abbey Gardens (which is like the South of France), affected me deeply. And of course, who wouldn’t be affected by the history of the place with the dozens of shipwrecks that litter the surrounding ocean floor along with the seventeenth century castle ruins—a stark reminder that the brutal English Civil War even reached Scilly.
There was also a sense of isolation and remoteness; mystery and magic that I could never experience from my sitting room to say nothing of seeing a variety of rare birds with exotic names like Lesser Yellowlegs and Woodchat Shrikes! The flora and fauna were breath-taking—Scilly’s well known for exporting scented narcissi around the world. I had to incorporate all these elements into the series!
The Island Sisters are about two sisters in their thirties, amateur photographer Evie Mead, and Margot Chandler, a former Hollywood producer. Evie is newly widowed, and Margot recently divorced so the pair are forced to start over. In Death at High Tide (book 1), Evie discovers she has inherited a crumbling Art Deco hotel that was inspired by the real Burgh Island hotel in Bigbury-on-Sea—which I have visited many times! The hotel sits at the end of a sandy causeway and is only accessible on foot at low tide or by a bizarre contraption called a Sea Tractor. In Danger at the Cove, the latest adventure, the sisters are frantically preparing for the grand re-opening of Tregarrick Rock. Things were looking good until a surprise visitor from Margot’s past makes an appearance and murder and mayhem ensue.
Happily, the Islands are part of the British Isles and currently not hampered by Covid-19 quarantine rules for Brits which means that I am heading there next month for a week and happily, my sister—who is nothing like Margot— is joining me. Let’s hope we don’t discover any dead bodies.
Readers, do you have any memorable trips, work or pleasure? Leave a comment below!
British born, Hannah originally moved to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting. She has been an obituary reporter, antique dealer, private jet flight attendant and Hollywood story analyst. Hannah has served on numerous judging committees for Mystery Writers of America and teaches mystery writing workshops for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program now on Zoom. After twenty-five years living on the West Coast, Hannah returned to the UK where she shares her life with two high-spirited Hungarian Vizslas.
Hannah writes the Island Sisters Mysteries (Minotaur), the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries (Constable) and the Vicky Hill Mysteries (Constable)
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